How You Can Take Care of Your Behavioral Health During Infectious Disease Outbreaks

Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations such as an infectious disease outbreak that requires social distancing, quarantine or isolation.

People may feel anxiety, worry or fear related to:

  • your own health status
  • the health status of others whom you may have exposed to the disease
  • the resentment that your friends and family may feel if they needed to go into quarantine as a result of contact with you
  • the experience of monitoring yourself or being monitored by others for signs and symptoms
  • time taken off from work and the potential loss of income and job security
  • the challenge of securing things you need like groceries and personal care items
  • concern about being able to take care of children or others in your care
  • uncertainty or frustration about how long you’ll need to remain in this situation and uncertainty about the future
  • loneliness about being cut off from the rest of the world
  • anger if you think you’ve been exposed due to the negligence of others
  • boredom and frustration because you may not be able to work or engage in regular everyday activities
  • uncertainty or ambivalence about the situation
  • a desire to use alcohol or drugs to cope
  • symptoms of depression, such as feelings of hopelessness, changes in appetite or sleeping too much or too little
  • symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder[PTSD], such as intrusive distressing memories, flashbacks, nightmares, changes in thoughts and mood, and being easily startled.

If you or a loved one experience any of these reactions for 2-4 weeks or more, contact your health care provider or other behavioral health provider and advocacy agencies.

In the event of an infectious disease outbreak, like the present day Coronavirus[COVID-19], our local, state or federal officials might require the public to take measures to limit and control the spread of the disease. In the case of COVID-19, it has been determined to be a pandemic. This means that the virus has become a global disease, whereby people all over the world are either becoming or can possibly become infected.

Some of the measures suggested or ordered to the public are social distancing, quarantine or isolation or a combination of these things. All of these are designed to stop the spread of the disease.

What Is Social Distancing?

Social distancing is a way to keep people from interacting closely or with enough frequency to spread the disease. Schools and other gathering places such as movie theaters may close, and sports events and even religious services may be cancelled.

What Is Quarantine?

Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who have been exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick. It lasts long enough to ensure a person has not contracted a contagious and/or infectious disease.

What is Isolation?

Isolation prevents the spread of an infectious disease by separating people who are sick from those who are not. It lasts as long as the disease is contagious.

man holding his face

Supporting yourself during social distancing, quarantine and isolation are best when you understand the risk. Media coverage may give the impression that everyone is in immediate danger when the risk may be very low.

Stay up to date on what is happening, while limiting your media exposure. Get your information from official sources, such as the CDC, NIH, WHO. Avoid listening or watching news 24/7. This tends to increase anxiety and worry. Remember that children are especially affected by what they see and hear on television.

Be your own advocate. Speaking out about your needs is really important if you are in quarantine, since you probably aren’t in a hospital or other facility where your needs are being met. Make sure that you have what you need to feel safe, secure and comfortable.

Work with official resources to find out how you can arrange for groceries and toiletries to be delivered to your home when needed. Inform health care providers of needed medications and ensure that you continue to receive them.

Educate yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask questions-clear communication may help relieve any stress or distress associated with social distancing, quarantine or isolation. Ask for information in writing when available or ask a family member or friend to pick up information for you if you are unable to on your own.

Work with your employer to reduce financial stress if you are unable to work during this time. Provide your employer with a clear statement/explanation of why you are away from work. Contact the U.S. Department of Labor toll-free at 1-866-487-2365 about the Family and Medical Leave Act[FMLA] which allows employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for serious medical conditions, or to care for a family member with a serious condition.

Contact your utility providers, cable and internet provider, or other companies from whom you get monthly bills to explain your situation. Request alternative bill payment arrangements as needed. Also, ask that any delinquency not be recorded on your credit report during this time.

Connect with others. Reaching out to people you trust is one of the best ways to reduce anxiety, depression, loneliness and boredom during social distancing, quarantine and isolation. You can use your telephone, email, text messaging and social media. Talk ‘face to face’ with friends and loved ones using FaceTime, Skype or Google Duo. Ask for newspapers, movies and books from friends and families if medically approved.

Talk with your doctor if you are in a medical facility. If at home, and you’re worried about physical symptoms, call your doctor or other health care provider.Ask about possibly scheduling remote appointments via Skype or FaceTime for mental health, substance use or physical health needs. This called tele-health or tele-medicine.

Use practical ways to cope and relax. Relax your body often. Do things like deep breathing , stretching, meditation, praying or engaging in activities you like.Pace yourself, or do something fun after a hard task. Lat, talk about your feelings and experiences to friends and loved ones, if you find it helpful. Try to maintain a sense of hope and stay positive.

We are all in this together, and the spirit of hope and giving, and acts of kindness, not random but deliberate, will get us through the rough times. This too shall pass. Stay positive and healthy!



SAMHSA: Disaster Distress Helpline                                                     toll-free: 1-800-985-5990[English and Spanish]                     SMS: Text TalkWithUs to 66746                                                 TTY: 1-800-846-8517                                                                     Website:

Treatment Locator                                                                       Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator Website:

If you are feeling overwhelmed with emotions such as sadness, depression, anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or someone else, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).      



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